Georges Mathieu, Famed French Painter of Sprawling Abstractions, Is Dead at 91

Mathieu at work on a canvas called “Queen Anne of Austria and Louis XIII Enter Paris on May 14th, 1616 upon their Return from Bordeaux” in 1960 at the Chateau of Courances, near Fontainebleau, France. (Courtesy Keystone Features/Getty Images)

Georges Mathieu, whose large abstract paintings and painting performances made him one of France’s most famous and financially successful artists, died on Sunday in Boulogne-Billancourt, France, a suburb of Paris, according to RFI. He was 91.

Writer and French Minister of Cultural Affairs André Malraux once referred to Mathieu as a “Western calligrapher,” according to the wire service, aptly capturing the character of his abstract marks, which came to be grouped under the style of Lyrical Abstraction in the years following World War II.

Mathieu’s most iconic works feature long, curving streaks and bursts of color that he applied to often giant-sized canvases in quick, controlled strokes, with little of the messier splatter that became the signature of Jackson Pollock, whose first Paris show was with Mathieu’s dealer, in 1947. He often painted before audiences, impressed crowds with his tremendous speed—Blouin Artinfo’s In the Air blog notes that he was once styled as “the world’s fastest painter.”

Though the artist has only rarely exhibited in the U.S. in the past few decades, he was wildly popular in France, known for his luxurious lifestyle (he posed for photographs standing astride or next to a Rolls-Royce with remarkable regularity) and his ferociously scaled mutton chops.

Mathieu’s work is now on view in New York in the Guggenheim’s “Art of Another Kind: International Abstraction and the Guggenheim, 1949–1960,” up through Sept. 12.

Georges Mathieu, Famed French Painter of Sprawling Abstractions, Is Dead at 91